Right before the July 4th holiday, the North Carolina Senate Republicans passed H695, a bill originally written to ban the application of foreign law (read: Sharia law) in state courts. Without notifying the public, senators attached sweeping abortion restrictions to the bill at the last minute, perhaps hoping no one would notice.
It’s unclear how — or why — the state’s GOP lawmakers thought they would be able to sneak in the harsh measures. For the past 10 weeks, demonstrators have shown up for protests dubbed “Moral Mondays” to challenge the legislature’s increasingly far-right agenda. With the array of conservative — and sometimes bizarre — stances taken in the legislature this session, it should be no surprise that people are paying close attention.
As originally intended, the bill, now called The Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act, prevents Muslims from invoking religious law in family court matters. Now it also restricts health-care coverage for abortions; requires abortion clinics to meet the standards of standard hospitals; and requires physicians to be present, even at medically induced abortions — restrictions opponents say would severely restrict access to abortions and could diminish safety for women.
In the largest of the “Moral Monday” rallies yet, more than 2,000 people assembled at the state capitol Monday night to protest this latest iteration of H695. Of those, more than 60 activists were arrested, joining about 700 other people who have been arrested earlier this year for protesting the legislature at similar rallies.
Several news organizations and blogs have covered the fallout in Raleigh since Wednesday and have, rightly, lambasted the senate for their surreptitious method of passing controversial legislation. Proponents of anti-Sharia bills regularly invoke “women’s rights” to support their anti-Muslim stance, and this bill illustrates how hypocritical they are. However, some activists and journalists critical of the legislature have similarly made assumptions and taken swipes at Islam to make their case.
It is critical that North Carolinians continue to stand up for the reproductive rights of women in their state; it is also critical that, in doing so, they avoid relying on the tactics used by the far-right to make their point.
While some conservatives and progressives alike are willing denounce Islam in this debate, what they fail to acknowledge is that abortion is an issue that hardly has consensus among Islamic jurists. According to religious studies and law professor Sherman Jackson, while there is disagreement on the moral ramifications of abortion, under Islamic law, “abortion…is not held to be an offense for which there are criminal or even civil sanctions.” This, he argues, “is an issue on which Islam’s own version of the separation between religion and state should be assiduously observed.”
It seems as if the North Carolina legislature would do well to stop attempting to impose its own forms of religious law on their state and heed Professor Jackson’s advice. And, as protesters wait for an unlikely veto from Gov. Pat McCrory, it is important to remember that the intent of this bill was and still is to promote prejudice and marginalize North Carolina residents.
From the floor on Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Josh Stein outlined the GOP game plan and warned against becoming distracted:
“There’s not a single instance of [Sharia law] appearing in the North Carolina courts. And yet, you’re playing to people’s base fears by promoting this […] When we don’t have anything to fear from the Sharia types, what we have to fear is from the North Carolina General Assembly Republican Senate impinging on people’s fundamental constitutional rights.”